Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Yellow-Bucket Marula Tree: A Mystery Solved!

Fruit of the Marula Tree

I was travelling South along the R561 route between Tolwe and Baltimore the other day when I came across a rather strange phenomenon…. Now before my dear American readers get confused I must first explain that the place “Baltimore” I’m referring to is not Baltimore in the U.S. state of Maryland, but a small place, one can hardly call a “town” or “village”, situated in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, not too far from the Botswana border.

There’s nothing to see in Baltimore (SA) and nothing much to write about, except to say - when nature calls it is best not to stop there. It is far safer to pullover for some bladder-relief under the clear blue skies of the bushveld - which is exactly what I did, near the T-junction, just before Baltimore.

On the opposite side of the road there was a Marula tree standing - all by its lonesome self, as the following picture clearly illustrates:

Marula tree with a yellow bucket hanging from a branch
The Marula tree is considered sacred by the northern Sotho people

Incidentally, the delicious South African cream liqueur, known by the brand name “Amarula”, is made from the fruit of this tree. It has an alcohol content of 17% by volume, which explains why the tree is sacred :-)

From where I was standing, on the opposite side of the road, I noticed a peculiar yellow object hanging from the tree. On closer inspection I discovered that it was a small yellow bucket, attached with wire to a branch. The yellow bucket had a green sticker on it, but it was hanging so high - it was impossible to read the sticker. It was also obvious that there was something inside the bucket.

Marula tree with a yellow bucket hanging from a branch

When I viewed the hanging bucket from another angle I noticed the word “BAD” written on it. I instinctively thought, “Well, THIS definitely cannot be good!” I had to zoom in to snap the following close-up picture:

Marula tree with a yellow bucket hanging from a branch

Hey, now don’t go scrolling down the page and spoil a genuine true African story! Read the following FIRST:

Double Murder at Glen Alpine Dam: Pre-1994

Many years ago, a few years before 1994 and before I relocated to Durban, when I was still stationed at the SA Police Forensic Lab in Pretoria (Ballistic Dept.), I attended a murder scene at the Glen Alpine Dam located on the Mogalakwena River, not too far from Baltimore. An elderly couple, with whom I was personally acquainted with since my childhood days, had been murdered. Both were employed by the Department of Water Affairs (known as the Water Board back then). Their duties included, among other tasks, managing a small weather station at the dam – to collect research data for weather observations.

The autopsy, which my duties as a Ballistic Expert required me to attend, was performed by a young local farmer/doctor from Baltimore. The poor chap was also closely acquainted with the dear old couple; in fact, everybody in the region knew them. The mere sight of their two lifeless bodies lying together, next to each other on a cold concrete slab – hideously mutilated by multiple gunshot wounds and clothing drenched in blood, was way too much for him to bear. I also found the situation rather upsetting. However, by then I was already so well-acquainted with the art of disguising my true emotions that I could quite easily have started a career as an actor or a politician (same thing).

The local doctor was so heartbroken that he couldn’t get himself to cut the bloodstained clothing off their bodies. Pieces of tree bark had embedded the clothing into the skin – an indication that the couple were hiding behind a tree when their crazed killer opened fire with an R1 automatic rifle. This observable fact made it all the more difficult to remove the clothing… But, there can be no autopsy if clothing is not removed!

So, with a young doctor clearly too emotional to even begin the autopsy – and time running out fast – and other members of the police waiting at the crime scene for ‘the experts’ from Pretoria - my partner and I grabbed the scalpels and did what needed to be done.

An R1 rifle was found at the murder scene – in a bath filled with water. It was obvious that the killer wasn’t a very bright spark, because the water actually preserved the fingerprints on the rifle. The terrorist was arrested that same evening, a few miles away in a black township near Pietersburg (now Polokwane).

Back to the Marula tree at Baltimore…
Flashbacks of the above scene scrambled through my mind while I circled the Marula tree and its weird little bucket, pondering whether I should go tree-climbing, or not. At the same time my mind also wondered off to the subject of farm murders and cryptic messages (secret African sign languages – as old as the hills) that modern-day savages sometimes use when they plan their barbaric killings.

Some readers will perhaps also recall the claims made in April 2010 by a private crime intelligence company called Swartberg ISS, who investigated the murder of Eugène Terre'Blanche. If you cannot remember see: - Report on the Analysis of the Murder of Eugene Terreblanche on 17 April 2010 (Afrika Tekens/Africa Signs)

Incidentally, an older Afrikaans article (30 Sept. 2002) on recommends that farmers rather not touch these so-called ‘Africa Signs’, because by doing so it may pave the way for further revenge attacks (Afr.: wraakaanvalle) -- Los Afrika-tekens liefs uit.

BUT, I had not read the article in while I was busy figuring out the mystery of the Yellow-Bucket Marula Tree near Baltimore… I only discovered the article while I was busy drafting this posting.

THANK GOODNESS, because if I had read the article I would have probably reported the bucket-thingy to the police at Baltimore --- and in the process I would, no doubt, have made a total fool of myself!

The pictures tell the rest of the story…


National Exotic Fruitfly Surveillance Program
National Exotic Fruitfly (sic) Surveillance Program
National Exotic Fruitfly Surveillance Program

Mystery solved!

The odd little yellow bucket was a trap (attractant) for fruit flies. The fibre-board block and plug found inside the bucket were slow dispensers of Methyl Eugenol (ME), a compound that attracts fruit flies with its rather sweet and aromatic odour.

After I had satisfied my curiosity I put the whole contraption back exactly where I found it.

Say that again… Curiosity killed what?


Foxie said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

TM, you made my day with this enchanting and mysterious story, and speaking of Maroelas - oh, my word, I would give my (non-existent) eye-teeth for a handful (or more) of these delicious fruits! Many years ago (around 1953 or thereabouts) we were staying on a farm in what is now known as Venda, some shortish distance from Soekmekaar and Groot Spelonken to the north of Pietersburg (I flatly refuse to call it Polokwane!) One of the domestics we had there, on Miriam, used to brew the most refreshing beer from the marulas and believe me, there was nothing to touch a draught of this ice-cold brew on a blazing hot summer day!!!
Thanks again!

Tia Mysoa said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@Foxie - I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Sipping Amarula cream liqueur is the closest I’ve ever got to sampling this fruit.

Doep 100 said... .....Click here to refresh this blog

@Tia Mysoa

I see this is old but it just solved the mystery for me too. I started noticing these buckets in trees on my way to work and immediately thought about markers for criminals as crime is rife in this rural area. So I did a quick Google search just now here at work and found this post. By the way, I spotted them between Sparkling Waters hotel and Buffelspoort dam in the North West province.

Thanks to your investigative reporting, I can now rest a little easier. :-)

On the subject of marulas, I love them! Marula jam on toast is so good but my speciality is making marula beer. It's got quite a kick.

Thanks for the article.

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